Tommy Prince

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Thomas George Prince
Sergeant Tommy Prince Private Morris Prince Buckingham Palace.jpg
Sergeant Tommy Prince (R) with his brother, Private Morris Prince, receives his Military Medal at Buckingham Palace
Nickname(s) Prince of the Brigade
Born (1915-10-15)15 October 1915
Scanterbury, Manitoba
Died 25 November 1977(1977-11-25) (aged 62)
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Allegiance Canadian Red Ensign 1921-1957.svg Canada
Service/branch Royal Canadian Engineers First Cdn Army formation patch.png Royal Canadian Engineers
1st Canadian Parachute Battalion
1st Special Service Force.patch.jpg Devil's Brigade
PPCLI.JPG PPCLI
Years of service June 3, 1940–June 15, 1945
August 1950–September 1954
Rank Sergeant
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War
Awards Silver Star ribbon.svg Silver Star (US)
UK Military Medal ribbon.svg Military Medal
Korea Medal.svg Korea Medal
Canadian Volunteer Service Medal BAR.svg Volunteer Service Medal
United Nations Service Medal for Korea Ribbon.svg United Nations Korea Medal

Thomas George "Tommy" Prince, MM (October 25, 1915–November 25, 1977) was one of Canada's most decorated First Nations soldiers, serving in World War II and the Korean War.

Early life[edit]

Born in Manitoba, Canada, he was one of eleven children of Henry and Arabella Prince of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation at the reservation in Scanterbury, Manitoba. He was the great-great grandson of the Indian Chief, Peguis,[1] who had led his nation from Sault Ste. Marie to the southern end of Lake Winnipeg in the late 1790s, keeping their French name, the Saulteaux.[2]

Growing up, Prince became a superb marksman with exceptional tracking skills learned from countless days spent hunting in the wilderness around his Indian reserve. He attended Elkhorn Residential School, completing grade eight. After leaving school, he was employed at a variety of manual labour positions but primarily as a tree feller. He joined the army cadets while a teenager.

World War II[edit]

At the outbreak of World War II, Prince volunteered to fight with the Canadian Army and although Prince easily met the requirements for recruitment, he was turned down several times before he was finally accepted on June 3, 1940.[3] He was originally a member of the Royal Canadian Engineers, trained as a sapper. He volunteered for duty with a parachute unit designated the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.[2] This designation was used to disguise the true reason for the recruitment of parachute volunteers in the UK at that time: the United States and Canada had begun the formation of a special force to conduct sabotage in Norway. Men were recruited in Canada and the overseas army for this unit, dubbed the First Special Service Force. The Canadians involved with this training continued to be on strength of their prior units. Although later dubbed the 2nd Canadian Parachute Battalion for administrative purposes, the unit did not actually exist. Prince then reported to the U.K.'s parachute school at RAF Ringway, near Manchester. He was promoted to lance corporal in February 1941.

In September 1942, Prince returned to Canada and joined the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (1CPB), and was promoted to sergeant. Prince volunteered for the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion and proceeded to Fort Benning, Georgia where they were forming. The Canadians were well below strength due to injuries in training and washouts. The Canadians then agreed to bolster the 1st Special Service Force (known as the "Devil's Brigade") by allowing men to volunteer. Prince, and the other men of this unit were originally chosen for their rugged outdoor backgrounds and received rigorous training, often under live fire. All members of this elite squad received intense instruction in stealth tactics, hand-to-hand combat, the use of explosives for demolition, amphibious warfare, rock climbing and mountain fighting, and as ski troops. Prince became a "Reconnaissance Sergeant" or in the Force table of organization a "Scout", responsible for moving into forward positions and reporting on the movements of the enemy.

The SSF moved to Italy in November 1943. They would take part in the clearing of the Bernhard or Winter Line preventing the Allied push towards Rome. They attacked and captured Monte la Difensa, Hill 720, Monte Majo, and Monte Vischiataro in December and January. They were then moved to Anzio. On February 8, 1944, near Littoria, Prince was sent forward to report the location of several German assembly points, including artillery positions. From an abandoned farmhouse about 200 metres (660 ft) from the enemy assembly area, he could report the location of the enemy's emplacements using 1,400 metres (4,600 ft) of telephone wire. An artillery duel followed as the Allies attempted to knock out the guns reported by Prince, and one of these rounds cut the telephone wire. Prince walked out dressed as a farmer weeding the crops; locating the damaged wires, he rejoined them while pretending to tie his shoelaces.[2] He made a show of shaking his fist at the nearby Germans, then again toward the Allied lines.[3] Returning to his lookout spot, he continued his reports, and over the next 24 hours four German batteries were knocked out of action.[2] In all he spent three days behind enemy lines. For this action, Prince was awarded the Military Medal, his citation reading (in part) "Sergeant Prince's courage and utter disregard for personal safety were an inspiration to his fellows and a marked credit to his unit."[2]

After being the vanguard of the US Forces liberating Rome on 4 June 1944, the SSF was moved to southern France as part of Operation Dragoon. First they would assault the Hyères Islands before going ashore at Sylvabelle on the French Riviera. There the force was ordered, as part of the 1st Airborne Task Force, to push eastward towards the Franco-Italian border. On September 1, Prince and a private were sent forward through the German lines to scout their positions near L'Escarène and came across an encampment area of an enemy reserve battalion. On the way back to report, Prince and the private came upon a battle between some Germans and a squad of French partisans. They started sniping the Germans, who eventually withdrew. When Prince made contact with the French leader, he asked Prince where his company was located, when Prince pointed to the private and said "Here," the French commander exclaimed that he thought there were fifty of them. The French commander recommended Prince for the Croix de Guerre, but the courier was killed en route and the message never reached the French Commander-in-Chief, Charles de Gaulle.[4]

Prince continued on to his unit. He then led the unit back to the encampment and joined in the battle, which resulted in the capture of the entire battalion, about 1000 men. From start to end, Prince had been without food, water or sleep for 72 hours and had walked over 70 km across rugged, mountainous terrain. Afterward, Prince was recommended for the American Silver Star, his citation reading:

After it was determined that both US and Canadian personnel would be better suited if they were dispersed to units in their own forces, the 1st Special Service Force was disbanded in December 1944. After returning to the UK, Prince was summoned to Buckingham Palace on February 12, 1945 where King George VI presented him with his Military Medal. Prince would later receive his Silver Star from US General Koening (on behalf of the American President on April 24, 1945; he was one of 59 Canadians to receive this award during the war, and one of only three to receive the Military Medal.[2] In all, Tommy Prince was decorated nine times, the most of any aboriginal soldier in the war. The war in Europe ended while Prince was in England.[2]

After the war[edit]

Prince was honourably discharged on June 15, 1945[5] and returned to his home on the Brokenhead Reserve, working in a pulpwood camp. In 1946, a woman attacked him at a dance and cut his cheek with a beer bottle, requiring 64 stitches.[4] After this incident, he left the reserve and moved to Winnipeg.

Using funding from the Department of Veteran's Affairs, Prince began a small but relatively prosperous cleaning service. He married Verna Sinclair, with whom he had five children.

In 1946 he was elected chairman of the Manitoba Indian Association. Entrusting his business to friends, Prince devoted his time to working with government to improve the conditions for Native peoples. He worked with the association to lobby Ottawa for changes to the Indian Act. While some revisions were made, little actual improvement followed. Frustrated with the red tape of Ottawa, he returned to Winnipeg to discover that his cleaning business had folded in his absence because the friends running it had crashed the truck and sold the parts as scrap metal.[4] Prince worked in lumber camps and a concrete factory to make ends meet.

Korea[edit]

In August 1950, Prince re-enlisted in the Canadian Army to fight with the United Nations troops in the Korean War. As he later commented, "As soon as I put on my uniform I felt a better man."[2] Re-instated with his previous rank of sergeant, Prince was now a member of the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (2 PPCLI), the first Canadian regiment to arrive in the war zone.

In February 1951, the Patricias joined the 27th Commonwealth Brigade on the battlefield. Prince was second in command of his rifle platoon, and shortly after arrival in Korea he led an eight-man evening "snatch patrol" into an enemy encampment. The successful patrol returned with two captured machine guns, and Prince went on to lead several more raids. However, his CO eventually avoided assigning him patrols because of the risks he took with the lives of his soldiers.[6]

Prince was present with the 2 PPCLI when it became the first Canadian unit awarded the United States Presidential Unit Citation for distinguished service in the Battle of Kapyong on April 24 and 25, 1951. The battalion had maintained a defense post on Hill 677 despite heavy fire from Chinese and North Korean forces.[6]

Prince's wartime duty was taking a toll on his body, and his knees were subject to painful swelling and premature arthritis. He was hospitalized after a medical examination in May 1951, and was later put on administrative duties and returned to Canada, where he served as an administrative sergeant at Canadian Forces Base Borden in Ontario. Here his knees improved, so in March 1952 he volunteered for a second tour of duty in the Far East. He sailed for Korea that October with the 3rd Battalion PPCLI.

Though the battalion was officially still training in November 1952, when Chinese forces attacked a key location on the Sami-chon River known as "the Hook" the 3rd PPCLI was called to defend the rear of the UN forces. The battalion had five members killed, but was able to recapture the post with a UN unit by November 19. Prince was among the nine Patricias wounded; though he recovered from his injuries, he was hospitalized for several weeks in early 1953 for treatment on his knees.[6] The armistice was signed during this period.

Prince received the Korea Medal, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and the United Nations Service Medal. Following the Korean Armistice Agreement, he remained in the army, working as an instructor of new recruits in Winnipeg, Manitoba, until his honourable discharge on October 28, 1953.[5] He continued to work at a Winnipeg personnel depot in Winnipeg, until September 1954.[5]

Civilian life again[edit]

Adjusting to civilian life had not been easy for Prince after World War II, and with painfully arthritic knees as a result of the long, harsh conditions during his military service, his capabilities were limited. Coupled with the discrimination seen against Native people at the time, his life became increasingly difficult, ultimately ending in his estrangement from his family and the placement of his children in foster homes.

In June 1955, Tommy Prince made the news for his heroism in saving a man from drowning at the Alexander Docks in Winnipeg. But his personal life kept deteriorating and alcoholism overtook him resulting in his final years being spent virtually alone, living in a Salvation Army hostel. In order to support himself, he sold off his medals.

Prince died at the Deer Lodge Hospital in Winnipeg in 1977 and was interred in the Brookside Cemetery.

Prince's medals changed hands several times before coming up for auction in London, Ontario. His nephew, Jim Bear, organized a pledge drive and purchased the medals, entrusting them to the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg.

Since his passing, a number of honours have been bestowed in his name. Some of them are:

On February 10, 2010, it was announced that Canadian actor Adam Beach will portray the Canadian war hero in an upcoming movie about his life. According to Bay Film Studios, the movie will be a "true account of Canada's most highly decorated First Nations soldier." Beach, 37, said he is honoured to portray Prince, calling him a positive role model for all First Nations.[7]

Monument to Tommy Prince, Kildonan Park, Winnipeg, just a few steps from the monument to his ancestor Peguis

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Manitobans in Profile: Thomas George Prince, 1981, Penguin Publishers

External links[edit]